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Public Gardens: Indoors and Out

Articles: Public Gardens: Indoors and Out

Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle. Author’s photographs

My earliest memories of a public garden are of the conservatory on Belle Isle, a large island park in the middle of the Detroit River. Built at the turn of the century, it was a classic glasshouse with rooms devoted to ferns, aquatics, cacti, and potted flowering plants that were rotated with the seasons. On our annual winter visits—snow drifted high against the glass and stone walls—I could escape into the warm humid air of the tropic rooms. Early on, I developed a love affair with cyclamen (a feature of the winter floral show), which, decades later, still rank among my favorite garden plants.

A hybrid Vireya rhododendron (R. ‘Kurt Adler’ x R. leucogigas) in the Volunteer Park Conservatory

Those childhood memories flooded back on a recent visit to the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. We toured this jewel of a conservatory, about the same scale as the one in Detroit, and found ourselves transported. Though the day was cold and heavily overcast, the interior was burs...

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